Another year comes to a close! By everyone’s accounting it has been a memorable but troubling year, what with Covid spreading misery around. But we are resilient, and enjoying nature is one of the ways that people have coped with the isolation and social distancing. Going for walks on our many nature trails, and enjoying the birds, gives us a sense of normality just because they are there and we can see them.

There are a few species that rarely get mentioned in this column because of their abundance. Everyone sees them and knows them, but ho-hum. Visitors from other countries, however, rave about them. One is the bright red male cardinal, which positively glows especially when perched in a snow-clad bush. Another is the blue jay, whose bold behaviors and distinctive blue and white plumage force us to watch their antics. The third is the common summer resident and lawn-dwelling American robin, which can still be found at this time of the year, especially around shrubs laden with berries.

Hopefully, 2021 will treat us better!

Bird Sightings

Lapland longspurs are found occasionally on our beaches, often with snow buntings. Buntings are more common, tannish, with a lot of white; look for a darker bird — more like a sparrow — and you may have found a longspur. On Dec. 26, Lanny McDowell found a Lapland longspur within a flock of snow buntings.

On Dec. 23, Warren Woessner visited Norton Point Beach and found a very pale Ipswich sparrow, a paler version of the much more common savannah sparrow. He also spotted 35 dunlin, five sanderlings, two black-bellied plovers, black ducks, and a northern harrier.

Evening grosbeaks continue their sporadic presence. The most recent sighting is from Debbi Alves in Hidden Cove, Oak Bluffs, who had an immature gobbling up sunflower seeds at her feeder on Dec. 27.

Hans Goeckel found an adult snow goose in a flock of Canada geese at Katama Farm on Dec. 24. Other waterfowl news includes his Dec. 23 sighting of  a long-tailed duck in Slough Cove, an unusual location for this sea-loving duck. Every winter we have a flock of greater scaup residing in Lagoon Pond; I counted 230 of them near Hines Point, and there has been a large flock of them in Edgartown Great Pond.

There were two lingering great egrets spotted by Jeff Bernier at Sheriff’s Meadow Sanctuary on Dec. 22. And Bob Shriber saw one of them at Quitsa Pond on Dec. 26. There are two lingering American oystercatchers around Eel Pond, as spotted by Jeff Bernier on Dec. 22, the quartet of Nancy Weaver, Margaret Curtin, and Jody and Susan Angevin on Dec. 24, and by both Walt Looney and Luanne Johnson on Dec. 27.

Also lingering are Baltimore orioles. One in West Tisbury was spotted by Karena Hammarlund on Dec. 19, and another in Edgartown recorded via Anne Whiting.
A male kestrel was spotted at Katama Farm by Lanny McDowell and Hans Goeckel on Dec. 19, and by Warren Woessner on Dec. 22. The kestrel reported in previous weeks was a female. The large flock of 80 or so horned larks is still there near the main parking lot, spotted recently by Lanny McDowell on Dec. 20, Jeff Bernier on Dec. 24, and Luanne Johnson on Dec. 27.

The Gay Head Cliffs continue to produce good birds — Bob Shriber’s highlights were northern gannet, hermit thrush, and snow buntings on Dec. 24, and red-throated loons on Dec. 26. This latter species has also been reported by Amy Morganthau on Dec. 24 off the Gay Head Cliffs, while I spotted two of them just outside of Oak Bluffs Harbor on Dec. 26.

A female eastern towhee visited the feeders of Cynthia Bloomquist and Thaw Malin  on Dec. 21 and Dec. 22.They have not been reported recently but can be found tucked away in dense shrublands at this time of the year. Scotty Goldin found his first ever brown creeper behind his house on Dec. 26. And white-throated sparrows are widely reported; they are still arriving, as on Dec. 27 an adult finally joined the two juveniles that have been regularly present at my feeder.

Jerry Twomey reports that the red-phase screech owl that nests in his yard returned this month, but its mate has yet to make an appearance.

Finally, mute swans flock up at this time of the year. Danguole Budris reports two dozen of them were in Tiah’s Cove on Dec. 26.

Please email your sightings to

Robert Culbert is an ecological consultant with Nature Watch LLC living in Vineyard Haven.